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Twenty-First Century NBA General Managers

In the past couple of years, we have covered three former basketball agents making the jump from representing players to being one of the key figures with regards to managing basketball operations of an NBA franchise.  Most recently, former Wasserman Media Group agent Bob Myers signed contract to become the Assistant General Manager of the Golden State Warriors.  Last year, Lon Babby formerly a basketball agent/attorney with Williams & Connolly accepted an offer to become President of Basketball Operations with the Phoenix Suns.  In 2008, Jason Levien, owner of his own company named Levien Sports Representation, left his agency behind to become General Counsel/Assistant General Manager of the Sacramento Kings and was later promoted to Senior Vice President prior to resigning in 2010.

All three agents found opportunities with NBA teams on the west coast of the United States, but there is no reason to look too much into that.  The three gentlemen also had law degrees, which is rather interesting to note considering that in the 2008-09 NBA season, only one General Manager had a law degree – Donnie Walsh of the New York Knicks.  However, in addition to the hiring of Myers, Babby, and Levien, Rich Cho (General Manager of the Portland Trailblazers) and David Kahn (President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves) have been hired by their respective teams in the past couple of years, and each has a J.D.

Many basketball agents and attorneys would consider the title of NBA General Manager to be a dream job, and it seems to be coming more of a possibility in today’s day and age.  Whether you have such an interest or not, I encourage you to read through a recently published article titled, “National Basketball Association General Managers: An Analysis of the Responsibilities, Qualifications and Characteristics” written by Glenn Wong of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Chris Deubert of Ginsberg & Burgos, PLLC.  It has everything from the demographics and career paths of NBA General Managers to the Duties of an NBA General Manager.

The entire published article is embedded below, but first, here are a few notes I took while reading it:

  • In 2008, the average NBA salary was $5.34 million, the highest in pro sports.
  • NBA General Managers are generally involved in almost all operations of the team, including finances, marketing, stadium issues, media, public relations, coach selection, scouting, contract negotiations, and player personnel decisions.
  • The NBA was the first U.S. pro league to implement a salary cap.  The cap was $3.6 million per team in the 1984-85 season.
  • The salary cap in the 2010-11 NBA season was $58.044 million.
  • Under the current collective bargaining agreement, which is about to expire, players are guaranteed at least 57% of Basketball Related Income in total salary and benefits.  Teams must spend at least 75% of the cap.
  • Salary cap exceptions include the Bi-annual Exception, Mid-Level Salary Exception, Minimum Salary Exception, Traded Player Exception, Veteran Free Agent Exception (aka the Larry Bird Exception) – all discussed at length in the article.
  • The average playing career of an NBA GM is more than double the average NBA playing career.
  • Only 4 GMs in the 2008-09 NBA season had not played college basketball.
  • In the 2008-09 NBA season, 50% of the then GMs had NBA coaching experience.
  • Only 4 GMs in the 2008-09 season had advanced degrees.
  • The average age of an NBA GM in 2008-09 was 50.1.  Only two GMs were under 40.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

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